Prince George’s County Lawmakers Consider Schools Takeover Plan

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File photo of Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker III. (Credit: rushernbaker.com)

File photo of Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III. (Credit: rushernbaker.com)

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker is urging lawmakers to support a measure that would allow him to overhaul the county’s school system.

The county’s House and Senate delegations held a joint hearing on Monday where they considered testimony on a bill that would give Baker power to select the next superintendent, but leave budget and salaries in the hands of the county school board.

Currently, the school board selects and supervises the superintendent and oversees budget and salaries.

William R. Hite Jr., the county’s most recent superintendent, left in September to become Philadelphia’s schools chief. The school system is searching for a new superintendent and has seen the position change hands five times in the past decade.

Baker has proposed taking over the system in an effort to improve the district’s low test scores, stabilize the turnover rate in the superintendent position and address the slow rate of academic improvement in the county compared to other Maryland counties.

The county executive argues his plan will provide accountability and oversight of the school system, create an environment that will allow the incoming superintendent to succeed, and ensure high-quality education.

“I want to make sure that we are focusing the resources where they are needed and can have a direct impact. Right now, I don’t feel that is happening,” Baker said. “This will actually give the school system more resources. Instead of having to worry about transportation, procurement and all of those other things they are doing outside of educating our children, we will be able to use resources from the county’s budget. They can take that $1.7 billion and stick it toward the classroom.”

Opponents of the bill countered that the takeover is unnecessary and doesn’t solve issues of overcrowded classrooms and low performance.

“What we don’t want is to see an overhaul of our school system, when we are going in the right direction,” said Verjeana Jacobs, school board chairman. “We believe that this issue has come to the superintendent search process. We are willing to have another conversation about that, but don’t overhaul our system because of it.”

Those opposing the overhaul also criticized the bill’s timing, as legislation is being considered with less than two weeks to go before the Maryland General Assembly adjourns.

Baker acknowledged that the timing was poor, but noted that changes should be made before a new superintendent for the 123,000-student system is hired.

A House bill that would create a task force to evaluate best practices for the county’s school board operations is also being considered.

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(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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